On paper, it was a major step forward for the 21-year-old burgeoning star.
Tatli entered the bout ranked third in the IBF, held a 31-2 mark and was the kind of slick, shrewd boxer who knows how to give hyped young prospects a hard time.
Lopez tattooed Tatli from the beginning until the merciful end halfway through the fifth round of their bout at Madison Square Garden. It was, seemingly, a big win. Lopez was fighting the best opponent of his career, by far, and he was in a prime position on the undercard of a pay-per-view headlined by world pound-for-pound No. 1 Terence Crawford.
But when his fight with Tatli was mentioned, Lopez wrinkled his nose and shook his head no.
“Don’t judge me by that one, bro,” he said, almost sounding despondent.
He possesses great talent, but even more so, he has a great desire to get the most out of himself. And in his bid to climb atop not only the lightweight division but also the boxing world, he’s not going to accept anything less than the best from himself.
That should serve him in good stead when he meets Masayoshi Nakatani on Friday (10 p.m. ET, ESPN) at the MGM National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Maryland, in a bout that will say much about his immediate future.
If Lopez gets past Nakatani, who is 18-0 with 12 knockouts and will own 3-inch height and reach advantages, the next stop will be an IBF title bout with champion Richard Commey.
He needs to get a win over Nakatani to get the fight with Commey and he needs a win over Commey to win a belt because he’ll need that to get a bout with Vasiliy Lomachenko.
His desire to fight Lomachenko, regarded by some as the top pound-for-pound fighter in the world, so early in his career is reminiscent in many ways of Floyd Mayweather Jr. Mayweather was on a fast track to the top almost from the time he turned pro after winning a bronze medal at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta.
On the night in 1997 that the late Pernell Whitaker fought Oscar De La Hoya in a welterweight title bout, Mayweather fought as a super featherweight on the undercard. His goal for his next fight was the winner of Whitaker-De La Hoya. And when that didn’t materialize, he got his first title shot by facing Genaro Hernandez, who at the time in 1998 was widely regarded as far-and-away the best 130-pounder in the world.
Those are the kinds of aspirations that Lopez has, and he’s so far living up to them. He’s nothing like Mayweather style-wise in the ring, but he’s a lot like him in terms of flamboyance, confidence and goal-setting.
“What better way for me [than to do what Mayweather has done]?” Lopez said. “Floyd was definitely the best of this era. I’m ready to be the best of the next era that’s coming.”
It’s easy to get excited about a prospect with the power that Lopez has shown so far. But he still has yet to fight anyone who was able to take a shot from him and come back.
That figures to change as he moves up the ladder, and how he adapts to that will be critical in determining whether he’ll be able to live up to his potential.
His promoter, Todd duBoef of Top Rank, is high on his potential but admits Lopez remains a work in progress with as many questions as there are answers.
“We haven’t seen him get extended yet,” duBoef said. “We haven’t seen him face adversity, or see how he reacts when someone backs him up or buzzes him. Knowing how to deal with those kinds of things, which inevitably are going to come up as they do for every fight, only comes with experience.
Lopez, who was the Yahoo Sports Prospect of the Year in both 2017 and 2018, wasn’t happy with the Tatli fight because he wasn’t pleased with how he prepared. The first words out of his mouth after that victory were apologies and an explanation that he didn’t have a good camp.
While he’s on a fast track — not many prospects fight for a world title in just 15 fights, which it would be for Lopez if he gets past Nakatani and earns the shot at Commey — Lopez said he understands he needs to grow.
He doesn’t believe he’s being rushed.
“There’s no rush, really,” he said. “We’re still young. I’m young. I still have a lot to learn. I have a lot to grow. I have youth on my side. It’s not really the rush, it’s moreso if you’ve seen how I fight, the skill level, even in my fifth pro fight, you seen it. The way I move and circled around and threw a left hook at Ronald Rivas. Those are things that aren’t taught in a day. I’d say the way my still is, it’s ready for that championship level.”
Friday’s bout will go a long way toward proving whether he’s the genuine article and a guy who has a chance to be among the best of his time, or whether he earned a lot of hype for beating up on weak opposition early but wasn’t able to bring it to the next level.
But if he passes the tests, we could be looking at one of the next big stars in boxing. He’ll fight Commey in late fall, duBoef said, if he wins on Friday. And if he gets past Commey, a fight with Lomachenko looms in the first quarter of 2020.
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